Afghan Christian Released From Jail

Abdul Rahman, an Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity, is interviewed during a hearing in Kabul on March 16, 2006. Afghanistan Afghan AP

A top Afghan official says Abdul Rahman, arrested last month for converting from Islam to Christianity – a capital offense - has been released from jail. He still faces death threats from angry Muslims and his current whereabouts are a secret.

Word of Rahman's release from the high-security Policharki prison on the outskirts of Kabul late Monday night came early Tuesday from Deputy Attorney General Mohammed Eshak Aloko.

"We issued a letter saying he was mentally unfit to stand trial, so he has been released... I don't know where he is now," said Aloko, who says Rahman, 41, was freed on the orders of prosecutors, and his family was there when he was released.

Monday, Rahman – who at that time expected to be let go, following Sunday's court decision to drop the charges against him – appealed to the United Nations for help in finding a country to grant him asylum.

U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards said at that time that the world body was working with the Afghan government to help Rahman and expected asylum would "be provided by one of the countries interested in a peaceful solution to this case."

Court dismissal of the charges against Rahman came after heavy international pressure, including from the U.S. and the Vatican.

About 700 people chanting "Death to Bush" and other anti-Western slogans protested Monday against the decision in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. Police commander Nasruddin Hamdrad says security forces surrounded the demonstrators but did not intervene.

A Supreme Court spokesman, Abdul Wakil Omeri, said the case was dismissed because of "problems with the prosecutors' evidence." He said several of Rahman's relatives testified he is mentally unstable and prosecutors have to "decide if he is mentally fit to stand trial."

CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar quotes one investigator as saying the testimony included a statement from Rahman's daughter, saying that he has mental problems.

The assertion that Rahman has mental problems, reports MacVicar, appears to be the basis of a face-saving deal in which he may be declared incompetent and unfit to answer for his actions, released and most likely, flown out of the country.

An Afghan official closely involved with the case told The Associated Press that the court ruled there was insufficient evidence and returned the case to prosecutors for further investigation. But he said Rahman would be released in the meantime.

"The court dismissed today the case against Abdul Rahman for a lack of information and a lot of legal gaps in the case," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly comment on the case.

Rahman, 41, became a Christian in the 1990s while working for an aid group in neighboring Pakistan.

Muslim extremists have demanded death for Rahman because he has turned away from Islam. Some clerics vowed that they would incite Afghans to kill Rahman if he was let go.

  • Joel Roberts

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